The Best Shade Grown Coffee Brands 2021

Shade grown coffee is something to look out for if you prefer to buy organic coffee grown sustainably.

Below we dive into what makes shade grown coffee different from your regular coffee beans and why it’s becoming more popular. Aside from the benefits of growing coffee underneath the shade for optimum flavor, protecting the broader ecosystem and nature benefits us all in the long run.

If you’re in a rush and looking for the best shade grown coffee in 2021, you can find our top pick below. Otherwise keep reading for more!

What is Shade Grown Coffee?

Shade grown coffee is classed as higher-quality when compared to regular coffee beans.

Why?

To put it simply, shade grown coffee grows entirely under the shade of other trees. These types of coffee plants produce a better-tasting cup due to the cherries maturing slower than when exposed to direct sunlight.

This type of coffee doesn’t alter soil moisture and avoid deforestation, which often drives bird populations away from their natural habitat.

It’s eco-friendly and delicious. A must-try if you’re looking for a coffee that is ethically and sustainably grown.

Below we run through our favorite picks when it comes to shade grown coffee:

The 5 Best Shade Grown Coffee Brands 2021

1. Volcanica Coffee’s Costa Rica Peaberry Coffee

Want to experience shade grown coffee at a higher level? This Costa Rican single-origin only uses peaberries, which only amount to 5% in every harvest.

It’s not only an exclusive batch of coffee; the peaberry is also tastier. It is said that a peaberry is sweeter than a regular coffee bean, thanks to the larger layer of sugar surrounding the individual bean.

These peaberries are sourced from La Isabela Estate in Tres Rios, one of the few coffee plantations specializing in shade coffee farming. It’s also Rainforest Alliance Certified as well, so you’ll be assured that the coffee beans were cultivated sustainably.

Expect fruity acidity with notes of tangerine, green apple, and lemon all wrapped up in a mild body. The sweet brightness is also balanced with a slight hint of cocoa in its aftertaste.

This unique taste, paired with how the coffee was cultivated, makes Volcanica Coffee’s Costa Rican Peaberry our top pick for the best shade grown coffee.

2. Volcanica Coffee’s Honduras Natural Honey Process Coffee

Another home-run for Volcanica Coffee, this natural honey processed Arabica coffee is also our favorite choice when it comes to Honduran beans too.

Brightest Cup
Honduras Natural Honey Process 16 oz

A juicy medium roast with mild acidity. Notes of strawberry, cherry and pomegranate. Certified bird friendly too!

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This medium roasted coffee is shade grown in a coffee plantation called Finca La Unica. The coffee plants are organically grown in volcanic-rich soil at altitudes of 1,400m above sea level, which results in slower bean maturity.

While the combination of the honey-process and the growing conditions of the coffee makes it a sweeter brew. To go along with the sweetness, you’ll find bright notes of cherry, strawberry, pomegranate, and even red wine!

With that said, I recommend brewing this single-origin using a pour-over to enjoy its juicy flavors and acidity fully.

Prefer a bright and complex cup for your morning coffee? Volcanica’s shade-grown Honduras single-origin might be the best fit for you, and it’s organically certified to boot!

3. Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Organic Haitian Blue Coffee

Haiti might not be as well known compared to other coffee-growing regions, but they produce high-quality coffees that can satisfy even the pickiest caffeine-connoisseur.

Bold Flavor
Organic Haitian Blue Coffee | Direct Trade
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These coffee beans come from one of the few coffee plantations that grow shade-grown coffee in the country.

The coffee plants are organically grown under a canopy of shade trees. It’s also direct-trade, which means that the farmers are compensated at an improved rate vs fair-trade requirements.

Every sip will have you tasting notes of spices ranging from cinnamon, plum, nutmeg, and sweet tobacco. To go along with the complex flavors, you’ll also get to enjoy the Haitian Blue’s bold and heavy body.

Want to taste the best the Caribbean has to offer? Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Haitian Blue organic coffee beans might be the brew you’re looking for.

4. Volcanica Coffee’s Dark Roast Organic Sumatra Mandheling Reserve Coffee

Bold, earthy, and heavy. That’s pretty much par for the course with beans coming from this coffee-growing region, and this exclusive reserve offers all of that and more.

Best Dark Roast
Sumatra Mandheling Coffee

Bold and earthy flavor, complimented by syrupy and chocolatey notes. Naturally low acid yet rich and dark. Use code SIP11 for 11% off this pick via the link below!

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With Volcanica Coffee at the helm, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get coffee beans grown in volcanic-enriched soil with a rich flavor.

Environmentally conscious and looking for a dark roast? Well, this Sumatra Mandheling Reserve coffee beans comes with a plethora of certifications. It’s organic, fair-trade, Rainforest Alliance certified, and of course, this coffee is shade-grown.

Flavorwise? You’ll sip on a full-bodied cuppa with rich syrupy flavors. If you usually find a Sumatran coffee too earthy, don’t worry because these Arabica beans are balanced with notes of brown sugar, dried fruit, and white wine.

If you have sustainability in mind when you’re choosing your coffee, Volcanica Coffee’s Sumatra Mandheling Reserve might be the answer for you.

Related read: Dark Roasted Beans

5. Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Organic Sumatra Swiss Water Decaf Coffee

Want to fully appreciate your coffee’s flavors without the jittery effects of caffeine? Well, Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Sumatra Swiss Water decaf might be the one for you.

Decaf Pick
Organic Sumatra Swiss Water Decaf

Earthy, bold, and creamy. Uniquely processed via wet hulling, these beans are fair trade, shade-grown, and purchased directly from small holdings in Sumatra. Use coupon SIP10 for 10% off too!

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The Swiss Water process uses no artificial chemicals, and it can remove up to 99.9% caffeine from the coffee while preserving it’s flavor. You’ll get to savor this Sumatran coffees’ earthy and vegetal taste to its fullest extent.

You won’t find any traces of chemical fertilizers or herbicides with this decaf as these beans are grown by a small group of Gayonese farmers who adhere to strict organic farming methods.

Like our other picks, The small shade coffee farms that cultivate this decaf aims to preserve the surroundings for the different birds, animals, and plants in the area.

A lot of hard work goes through to produce this delicious decaf, but all that effort pays off though this Sumatran decaf is fair-trade certified.

With Fresh Roasted Coffee’s Sumatra decaf’s unique taste and sustainable cultivation, you’ll never have to worry about caffeine or any additives in your beans.

The Shade-Grown Coffee Buyers Guide

Shade-Grown Coffee Benefits

There are many benefits of shade-grown coffee in its natural setting.

In a nutshell, environmental conservation and sustainability are the primary benefits when cultivating coffee thriving under shade trees.

Research indicates that shade-grown coffee plantations increases and maintains the natural flora and fauna in the immediate surroundings by preventing habitat loss.

The preserved nature provides an essential habitat for animals. To that effect, almost 150 species of birds have been discovered in shade coffee farms alone. The forest can also provide a temporary home for migratory birds.

This has a significant impact on increasing bird populations wjhile also acting as natural herbicides and pesticides.

The shade cover from the trees also provides cool temperatures and aid in soil moisture retention leading to improved growth and reducing soil erosion. A related benefit for this type of habitat is the improvements in pollination and a natural reduction in carbon dioxide.

The trees also provide a natural defense against climate effects, which may include increased temperatures and sporadic rainfall.

Lastly, a hidden benefit associated with shade-grown coffee is the additional opportunities available to cultivators. Farmers can harvest fruit from fruit trees, find firewood, building materials, and other crops depending on the surrounding flora.

Shade-Grown Coffee vs Sun-Grown Coffee

In nature, coffee is grown under a blanket of shade trees. It wasn’t until 1972 when developments in agriculture and coffee cultivation offered new species grown in a sun-grown and plantation-like system.

This method was too profitable to ignore, and many farmers cut the surrounding trees and switched to coffee plantations, which produces a significantly larger yield than a shade-grown plant. Since then, 60% of the 6 million acres of coffee land has been stripped of the surrounding shade trees to be replaced with sun coffee farms.

While sun coffee production might have an edge in quantity, bird-friendly or shade-grown coffee plants tend to produce higher-quality coffees partly through richer soil.

Coffee farmed under the full sun also might not receive the needed nutrients to produce high-quality beans. They are also often sprayed with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can have a detrimental effect on quality.

Shade coffee farms can access natural fertilizers from the dead leaves found in the forest above, giving nutrients to the soil.

Sitting in the sun all day can also harm the lifespan of a coffee plant. A coffee tree growing under shade trees usually lives up until 30 years, while a coffee grown in the sun will only live half of that.

More and more producers these days are converting their sun-grown farms to shade-grown coffee lands where the decreased cost of growing coffee and an increase in output quality lead to an increased opportunity for higher than average bean values. 

The Final Verdict

We’ve listed down the benefits of shade-grown coffee and made some picks if you want to try it out.

What makes Volcanica Coffee’s Costa Rican Peaberry our top pick is its sweet flavor and the great care taken for each coffee plant to produce these beans.

Prefer a brighter cup with the same shade-grown benefits? You can also try out Volcanica’s Natural Honey Processed Honduras coffee.

Brightest Cup
Honduras Natural Honey Process 16 oz

A juicy medium roast with mild acidity. Notes of strawberry, cherry and pomegranate. Certified bird friendly too!

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Essentially, with shade-grown coffee, you’re getting a more flavorful cup while conserving nature, so do your part and check out more of these eco-friendly beans!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where to buy Shade-Grown Coffee?

Compared to other certifications, finding a shade-grown or bird-friendly coffee can be quite tricky. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center offers an extensive list of retailers who carry coffee grown in the shade.

Nonetheless, we’d place Volcanica at the top of that list due to the broad assortment and freshness of the beans available online.

Why does shade-grown matter for coffee?

Coffee, specifically Arabica, fares better when grown in the shade compared to the sun.
This also lets the sugars in the coffee cherries to ferment longer, leading to a sweeter cup. It also preserves the natural environment and greatly reduces the use of additives and chemicals in cultivating coffee.

What is Bird-Friendly Coffee?

A bird-friendly coffee focuses on preserving bird populations and the natural environment for bird habitat, and its certification is synonymous with shade-grown coffee.

The label originates from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and it certifies if a coffee farm can provide at least 40% shade for its coffee trees.

Why is Shade-Grown Coffee better for the environment?

As shade coffee farming doesn’t use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, this method helps preserve the surrounding environment’s natural ecosystem.

It can also promote biodiversity because it preserves a natural forest canopy for birds, plants, and animals.

Philip Daniel Felongco

Philip Felongco

Ex-Barista and now coffee writer

A life long coffee drinker, Philip has been looking for new ways to enjoy coffee since he started in the coffee industry in 2017. His favorite coffee is a light roast Rwandan single origin. If he’s not binging on food shows or trying out new coffee recipes, you can catch him here at Sip Coffee!